The Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion launched a new award this year to honor the person who founded the NIU Inclusion Reception. The event, now known as the Richard A. Flournory Homecoming Inclusion Reception occurs each October and brings together alumni, students, faculty, staff and community members for an inclusive celebration. The new award, much like the reception, celebrates diversity and inclusion and recognizes faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends who have worked to make NIU a more inclusive place.
The five recipients of this year’s inaugural Richard A. Flournory Engagement Award are LaVerne Gyant, Sandy Lopez, Christian Baeza, Kimberly Moore and Barbara Curry.
Recipient LaVerne Gyant, Ed.D., is well known for her work building an inclusive community at NIU.
“Diversity is the one thing we all have in common,” said Gyant, who teaches in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education and Black Studies. “It should be celebrated and recognized every day. Every day we should recognize and celebrate our uniqueness, our strength, our beauty, our diversity.”
“Every day we should learn something new and teach something new about each other. Every day we should be fighting for social justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity,” added Gyant. “This way we open and keep the door open so we can walk together and continue to build a better world for ourselves, our students and our community.”
Longtime Huskie Sandy Lopez has also shown a strong commitment to ensuring that NIU is an inclusive community. Lopez is a double alumna of NIU and currently serves as the coordinator of Undocumented Student Support in the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Having been at the university for 30 years, she continues to admire the changes NIU has made as it works toward creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all Huskies.
“We must create a climate of respect as we recognize our fellow Huskies’ strengths and differences,” said Lopez. “It is necessary to advocate for those faced with racism and inequities.”
Lopez sees the impact of being an advocate first-hand. “When we honor the cultural wealth and knowledge our students bring to campus, we assist with retention and graduation rates.” Lopez continues. “It is on all of us to do our part to make higher education more accessible for all our students.”
Lopez encourages all of the NIU family to do their part in supporting students, faculty, staff and alumni.
“As I think about inclusion, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Audre Lorde,” said Lopez. ‘There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.'”
Commitment to inclusion is not only displayed by our faculty and staff members, but also a value instilled in our students and alumni.
One such student who helps build NIU’s inclusive environment is Cristian Baeza. Cristian is a graduate student in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education who is pursuing an M.S.Ed in Higher Education and Student Affairs, and is another recipient of this year’s Flournory Awards.
“To continue creating and sustaining an inclusive community, I believe that it is crucial to keep ourselves accountable as we simultaneously challenge and hold others responsible for their words and actions,” said Baeza. “We must intentionally engage with one another to better understand individual and collective experiences, a step that will allow us to understand one another better.”
“Regardless of title or position that one holds within an institution, department or committee, everyone’s participation is essential to create and sustain a community where individuals are actively recognized, heard and understood,” Baeza continues. “I believe that it is vital to be authentic and vulnerable throughout the entire process–a process that requires a substantial amount of energy, time and patience–but when accomplished, it can come with a lot of richness and strength.”
Someone who has been enriched by inclusion is College of Engineering and Engineering Technology alumna and award recipient Kimberly Moore, ’01, M.M. ’04.
Moore knows what it takes to succeed. She was named one of Crain’s Chicago Business “40 Under 40” in 2018, and is president/founder of KDM Engineering based in Chicago, which provides consulting services on engineering projects.
“I have experienced firsthand the extraordinary advantages that come about when we ensure diversity in background, thought and experience within our communities,” said Moore. “Success comes when people with different perspectives work together to solve complex issues, and as our world becomes increasingly complex and increasingly global, building and sustaining inclusive communities will most certainly have a positive impact on all aspects of our world well into the future.”
The fifth recipient this year’s Flournory Award, Barbara Curry, certainly left a positive impact on NIU.
Curry was employed at NIU for over forty years, working for several departments, including Human Resources Services, Financial Aid , the Veterans Assistance Program and the CHANCE Program. A woman of faith, Curry lived her life by John 15:13 from the King James Version of The Bible. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”